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Story Behind the Stone: The Pets of Oakland

A cemetery is a place where we can visit, remember, and honor our lost loved ones and family. For some, those family members include their beloved pets. At Oakland Cemetery, there are a number of pet owners who have chosen to forever memorialize their faithful companions. Here are a few of their stories:

Kitty Valentine

Across from the Calhoun Mausoleum, in the Bell Tower Ridge section of Oakland Cemetery, sits the statue of a spritely little dog named Kitty Valentine. Dr. Linton Hopkins received Kitty as a Valentine’s Day gift in 2002. At the time, Dr. Hopkins had been mourning the loss of his pet cat. So, his family decided to cheer him up with another four-legged friend. Dr. Hopkins’ granddaughter came up with the name Kitty Valentine: Kitty to honor the lost cat, and Valentine to mark the holiday.

Kitty Valentine became a favorite in the Hopkins’ household. She loved spending time with anyone and everyone. Dr. Hopkins, who often hosted medical students at his home, remembers how the little dachshund interacted with the students – even making appearances on the badminton court.

For Dr. Hopkins’ 50th wedding anniversary, his wife Priscilla asked their neighbor, the sculptor Tom Player, to make a bronze of Kitty Valentine. The statue took months of careful measuring and craftsmanship. Tom wanted to make sure he had all the dimensions correct and that he captured the essence of Kitty. For years, the completed statue stood by the Hopkins’ fireplace.

In 2015, Kitty Valentine passed away at the age of 13. The Hopkins family scattered her ashes in several places, including Oakland Cemetery. Kitty had spent some time at Oakland. Generations of the Hopkins family are buried at Oakland Cemetery, and Dr. Hopkins enjoyed walking the grounds or hosting picnics with friends and family.

Eventually, Linton and Priscilla Hopkins moved the statue of Kitty Valentine to their own plot at Oakland Cemetery. They hoped that the little bronze would attract and entertain children – just like Kitty Valentine did during her own lifetime. They felt that displaying Kitty’s statue would be a nice way to honor their dog and celebrate the relationships that owners have with their pets. Many Oakland visitors smile when they see Kitty Valentine; they stop to take a picture and leave a lucky coin next to the statue.

“Best Girl” Apollo

Christa Heath adopted six-week-old Apollo from the Cobb County Humane Society in 1997. The Australian Shepard / Border Collie mix puppy had white and black fur with two different colored eyes – one blue and one brown. Apollo was meant to be a dog for Christa’s five-year-old son. He named her Apollo after the Apollo 13 spacecraft. But, as dogs often do, Apollo picked her own favorite person in the family.

Apollo earned the nickname “Houdini Dog” for her uncanny ability to escape any type of crate. She was also notorious for jumping through screened-in windows. But Apollo would stick around for her favorite treats: pizza and steak. She enjoyed herding people but was very wary of thunderstorms; the dog was ahead of the trend of wearing thunder jackets.

When Apollo was four years old, Christa married Richard (Ricky) Heath. With Ricky working from home, he and Apollo spent a lot of time together. They became fast friends.

Apollo loved her people. She didn’t necessarily mind what she was doing, as long as she was along for the ride. In the summer of 2011, the Heath family took an RV trip, traveling west to Mississippi and north to West Virginia. Christa documented the trip on the blog “Apollo’s Great Adventure.” She shared vacation photos and videos and wrote as though Apollo herself was sharing all the fun details. With Apollo, it was always an adventure.

In June 2014, Ricky Heath passed away. He was laid to rest in Christa’s family plot at Oakland Cemetery. Just six months later, 17-year-old Apollo also died. Christa said that Apollo waited until she was alone in the house, perhaps to spare Christa and her son the added pain. Apollo’s ashes now rest next to Ricky. Her marker reads “Apollo, Best Girl, June 1997 – November 2014.”

Christa visits Oakland Cemetery every Sunday. The first time she brought her dog Coco, a rescue from pet rescue nonprofit Angels Among Us, to the cemetery, the young pitbull went right to Apollo’s grave. These days when the pair visit, they like to leave treats for Apollo, the best girl and adventure buddy.

Reid Benson and Jodie

Long-time Oakland Cemetery tour guide and volunteer Amos Reid Benson, is laid to rest along with his constant companion, the miniature schnauzer Jodie.

Amos Reid Benson (known by Reid) was born on June 1, 1929, in Columbus, Georgia. Reid graduated from Mercer University and earned his master’s degree from the University of Alabama. After serving as a corporal with the U.S. Army in Korea, Reid took a job with the Georgia Department of Education. He worked at the Vocational Rehabilitation program, which was a federal- and state-funded program that evaluated, counseled, trained, and placed those with disabilities into employment. (It’s now part of Georgia’s Department of Human Resources). Reid helped individuals with disabilities and supported those who provided counseling and rehabilitation services. He also coordinated statewide events for the Georgia Rehabilitation Association and planned social events for the Vocational Rehabilitation program’s staff. In Reid’s 30-plus years with the program, he progressed from a rehabilitation counselor all the way to Assistant to the Director.

Reid was a caring, warm, and friendly man who had a passion for history. For decades, he volunteered at Oakland Cemetery as a tour guide and board member. Fellow volunteers say that he was always happy to show visitors around the cemetery – one of his favorite spots was the final resting place of Julia Carlisle Withers, Atlanta’s first baby. His knowledge about Oakland Cemetery and Atlanta history was expansive, and he had a talent for captivating both children and adults with his stories. His fellow tour guides refer to Reid as an inspiration and a mentor.

If you took one of Reid’s tours in the 1990s, you might have met his dog, Jodie. Jodie was a well-behaved and trained miniature schnauzer. Reid loved animals, and the pair were always together. When the little dog passed away, Reid placed Jodie’s ashes in his plot in the Bell Tower Ridge section of the cemetery. Those who were at the cemetery that day recalled seeing Reid bent over the grave, saying a few words for his four-legged friend. Reid Benson died on April 12, 1997, and was also laid to rest at Oakland. His marker is decorated with a miniature schnauzer, a small replica of Jodie. In terms of cemetery symbolism, dogs represent fidelity, flattery, and obedience. You can also find a conch shell on top of Reid’s marker. These shells are meant to show honor and remembrance.

Tweet the Mockingbird

Not all of the pets buried at Oakland cemetery are of the four-legged variety. Tweet the Mockingbird was the favorite pet bird of Frederica “Molly” Weimer. Molly and her husband Conrad were originally from Germany – the city Klappanburg in Lower Saxony. They settled in Atlanta and lived in a home on Mangum Street in what’s now known as Castleberry Hill. Conrad worked as a carpenter and cabinet maker while Molly ran the household. Together, the couple raised five children. Molly loved birds; it’s said that she owned several during her lifetime.

When Molly’s beloved mockingbird passed away in January 1874, she buried Tweet in the family plot in Oakland’s West Side. Molly wanted a monument for Tweet and asked a local stonecutter to make a bird sculpture. However, the stonecutter was not able to complete the statue and instead made Molly a lamb. (If you take a close look at the front legs, you can see where the stonecutter may have started to make a bird and transitioned to a different animal). In the Victorian Era, lambs were commonly used on children’s graves, as the animal symbolized gentleness and innocence.

Molly was laid to rest in Oakland Cemetery in December 1899, and Conrad in February 1903. Just as Tweet the Mockingbird entertained the Weimer family in life, the sweet bird continues to be one of the more popular stops at Oakland Cemetery – enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Miss Minnie Tanner

Minnie the chihuahua had a personality so big that when Mike Tanner adopted her, he started referring to her as Miss Minnie. The pair met at an animal shelter in Douglasville in 1997. Minnie was a white-colored chihuahua with touches of golden brown fur. Her ears always stood straight up. Minnie had a rough start to life. According to the shelter employees, Minnie belonged to an older woman who passed away; her family let her loose rather than take care of her. A kind neighbor rescued Minnie and brought her to the shelter.

After a bit of an adjustment, Minnie and Mike became close friends. Minnie had a loving personality. She was always available to share your snacks, take a nap in the bed, or be a patient listener if Mike was having a bad day. The pair liked to walk around Oakland Cemetery. Mike became a Historic Oakland Foundation volunteer in 2008, shortly after the tornado swept through the cemetery.

For years, Minnie loved to race out of Mike’s house, flying off the back deck and into the yard. But as she got older, Minnie started to have trouble with all the steps. So, Mike started letting her out the front door, where there was only one step to navigate. One morning in 2010, Minnie disappeared. She had gone out the front door early that morning but never asked to be let back in. After several days of searching, a neighbor spotted Minnie near her fence. The little dog had just laid down and passed away.

Mike brought Minnie to his family plot at Oakland. He had a plaque carved for her, inspired by an 1880s pet marker in The Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Minnie’s plaque reads:

Minnie – Died Aug. 11, 2010 – Age 17
Only A Dog Do You Say Sir Critic?
Only A Dog, But As Thruth I Prize,
The Greatest Love I Have Known In Living
Lay In The Deeps Of Those Limpid Eyes.
Heat Of Summer, Nor Frosts Of Winter
Would Make Her Fail If My Footsteps Led,
And Memory Holds In Its Treasure Casket,
The Name Of My Darling, Who Lieth Dead.

If you’re interested in learning more about Oakland Cemetery and its residents, be sure to take one of our many guided tours. The cemetery offers an overview tour, special topic tours, and self-guided tour options.

Megan Hodgkiss, JD, Ph.D., is an Oakland Cemetery tour guide, special events volunteer, and member of the Historic Oakland Foundation’s Board of Trustees. When she is not volunteering with Oakland Cemetery, Megan is the CEO and Principal Writer of Hodgkiss Consulting LLC. She works on content marketing and copywriting projects for law firms and businesses across the US.

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